Saturday, February 27, 2016
OSCARS 2016: Carol (2015)
Carol" is one of the few Oscar-nominated films this year I saw before the nominations were announced. A story of forbidden love between two lesbians in the fifties may not seem like something a horror/sci-fi/action nerd like me would normally watch. The truth is I’ve been a fan of Todd Haynes ever since watching a fairly rough bootleg VHS tape of “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story” in high school. Based on a rapturous reception at Cannes, the film was bookmarked as an early Oscar contender. Perhaps because the Academy is terrified of gay people, the film did not score as many nominations as some expected. This hasn’t changed the fact that the movie is still pretty good.
In the early 1950s, Terese works as a shop girl. Despite having a gaggle of friends and a potential boyfriend, Terese feels something is missing in her life. During the Christmas shopping season, an older woman named Carol enters the store, looking for a gift for her daughter. The two immediately feel a chemistry between them. During a holiday road trip, Carol and Terese consummate their relationship. However, the narrow-minded views of the time rear their head when Carol’s embittered ex-husband threaten to take her daughter away.
fifties melodramas in “Carol.” The film’s production design and costumes are gorgeous. The cinematography is lavish. Carter Burwell’s score is touching and powerful, a low tone lending a sense of melancholy while the mounting strings build tension. The opulent design creates an intentional separation between the audience and the story. Carol and Terese’s romance begins as furtive glances across rooms. This escalates to dinners and awkward visits at Carol’s home, both longing to touch but not being able to. When finally left alone in a private place, “Carol” oozes a slow eroticism. The love scenes are intimate, focused on the contours of the bodies, intertwining limbs, and close faces. By taking its time leading up to the sex scene, “Carol” earns the passion of those scenes. The careful approach also deflects any possibility of exploitation.
“Carol” is also an actors’ film. Rooney Mara, with her pageboy hair cut and mousy clothes, seems even younger than she is. Mara does an incredibly subtle thing, expressing her character’s inner life through her outside actions. Terese puts up a shield around other people, protecting her feelings, thoughts, and desires. When around Carol, she’s allowed to be herself. The relationship makes her more bold, allowing herself to stand up against her would-be suitor. Cate Blanchette is more self-assured as the titular character. When things gets rough, her nerves rattle to the surface. Yet Blanchette’s sense of self-assuredness is also impressive, especially during the film’s emotional climax. “Carol” features two extraordinary performances.
in production for many years before cameras ever rolled. It’s apropos that the film came out when it did, when LGBT rights are a hotter button issue than ever before. When gay couples have more rights than ever – rights they have to continue to struggle to defend – it’s meaningful to look back. In “Carol,” the title character’s husband conspires to remove Carol’s daughter from her home. After a private detective spies on Carol and Terese during their trip, Carol’s husband intends to use the information against her. (Whether or not Carol’s powerful speech near the film’s end makes a difference or not is left up to the audience.) Throughout the story, the two have to keep their relationship a complete secret, fearful that a glance or fleeting touch might give them away. This is how it was in the fifties. Though we’ve come a long way since then, the struggle of the story implicitly suggest that there’s still roads to travel.
Beautifully directed and executed, with fantastic performances and music, “Carol” is quite good. In a fairer world, it would win several Oscars. In our world, it’s unlikely to pick up any statues on Sunday night. This is even putting aside the category fraud, of Rooney Mara being nominated in the Supporting category despite clearly being the lead. Still, making a lovely film that was extremely well received probably still makes Haynes proud. [8/10]